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Thursday, June 14, 2007

the key

Sunbonnet Sue is a very traditional quilt pattern with lots of history. Sue has plenty of friends and some detractors. She's a faithful little girl who won't let you down when you need a cuddle.

An unfinished quilt top of Sunbonnet Sues was one of the few things I got to keep from my family's household when my mom pulled up stakes after her divorce and moved east a long time ago. Many of the material memories she had carefully saved were gone when she moved back to her birthplace twenty years later. So I was happy Sue was safely tucked into my stash.

At some point when my daughter was in high school, we got the idea that we would finish the quilt. I pulled it out and we looked at it together. Not exactly as I remembered it. The sashing between the sweet blocks was black and there was a peachy pink square residing between the black strips. It was a horrible combination and I couldn't bear it. So I picked out the stitching and washed and ironed the blocks carefully. As I ironed them I studied each one. The appliqued dresses and bonnets were made from clothing scraps. Hardly any repeats in the entire quilt. The embroidery was nicely done around the edges of the appliqued dresses. The background was a variety of muslins, some coarser than others and there were rust stains here and there. Some of the color combinations on the blocks were a little unusual but not so bad once the black was out of the picture. The most intriquing part was that a couple of the blocks were sewn rather badly. The appliques were not carefully turned, the embroidery was in huge stitches as if the seamstress was in a hurry to get it done. A child's work.

When I talked with my mom about our project, she vaguely remembered the quilt top, didn't remember giving it to me at all. She did remember that her grandmother made quilts and that she had worked on some of them as a child when she was learning to sew and embroider. These sloppy little blocks were hers!

My daughter and I searched out old clothes and leftover fabrics from clothes I had made for her. We shopped for some other prints and solids that would go with the blocks and replaced the black sashing with more cheerful fabrics.

We decided to embroider all the names of all the women who had worked on this quilt in the sashing that ran horizontally between the blocks. We started at the upper left hand block and put my great grandmother's full name and her birth year and the year of her death. Then working diagonally and dropping down a row, we put my grandmother's name and birth year and then my mother's name and birth year, then mine, then my daughter's. We still have two more sashes - one for her daughter and one for her grandchild.

Over the course of months, the quilt sat on the back burner for me and one day I came home to find that my daughter had sewn the strips of blocks together with the sashing we picked out. She was breathless as she showed me how much she had gotten done while I was away at work. She told me how anxious she was to get it done! Just as the embroidery had been done by another anxious-to-finish child, this stitching was not very well done. Hardly any of the seams she had sewn actually held the pieces together. She hadn't matched the edges of the fabrics together and there were gaps where the stuffing would have been seen clearly. I was appalled. I had to redo it all. I was disappointed that she didn't have the patience nor the inclination to learn do it correctly. We were silent about the quilt while I worked to fix it.

But I got the message, she wanted to finish the quilt. So after fuming and fixing, we moved on to the sandwiching of the batting and the quilting and binding. We hand quilted. Thank goodness. I had never made a quilt before this one (part of the reason for my going slow was I was hoping for directions to appear written on the wall above my sewing machine). Quilting was simple, right? Everyone knows how. There are plenty of books on the subject. I have a degree in Home Ec, for crissakes. Anyway, it was a long time ago and I really hadn't a clue how to do this the right way. So I struggled onward and hoped she didn't realize how scared I was to work on this precious piece of family history.

During some family visits, I insisted that my sister, my nephew, my mom and anyone else who could hold a needle, should work on the quilting. We finally got enough quilting done so that the quilt could go off to college with my daughter. Yes, an heirloom went to college. And came home again, I am happy to say. In fact, it is safely locked in the hope chest that we had made for her. I lined the wooden chest with muslin covered chipboard to prevent the wood from harming the fabrics inside. The top of the chest has a beautiful leather dragon illustration designed and carved by her dad. So I know the quilt is safe inside - perhaps forever. Somehow in all her moves from college to my home to apartment to her first home to her second home, she has lost the key to the trunk.

So all you get is the photo of one of the leftover Sue's. We also made a pillow for my mom to keep on her bed with two of the Sue's. I should take a photo of that the next time I fly to see her.

Anyone know how to pick a lock?

Comments

Wow, what a responsibility. No wonder the quilt is treasure, I am envious of you having something which belonged to your g-grandmother, never mind something she made.

Posted by: wendy | Friday, June 15, 2007